Local kids saddled up at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College on Saturday to participate in Indiana's first Special Olympics Equestrian Day.
Participants at the monumental event included Bethany Randall of Brazil, Tyler Alsip of Clay City and Larissa Hughes of Reelsville. They are three of 11 students that are enrolled at Penny Akers' Little Creek Special Equestrians in Center Point where the students learn to brush, lead, ride and saddle their steeds along with other assisted activities.
Horseback riding also serves as physical therapy to the students and provides them with balance, muscle tone, hand-eye coordination, concentration and their learning process.
Akers became interested in Equestrian Therapy when her granddaughter was born and was diagnosed with CHARGE syndrome. The little girl had alot of disabilities from her syndrome and Akers noticed outstanding results during her therapy sessions. After her granddaughter passed away, she made a promise to help others. Akers received her certification in Equestrian Therapy three years ago from from the North American Riding for Handicapped Association and started running the Little Creek Special Equestrians out of her home in addition to teaching Equestrian Therapy at SMWC.
The idea of the Equestrian Fun Day came from Akers because the Special Olympics offered the sport but never before in Indiana. So, Akers talked with a friend of hers involved with the Special Olympics so Akers' students could get a chance to compete and show off their newly learned skills. An evaluation over the event will be run in October to see if there is enough interest to keep it as a sport during the Indiana Special Olympics in June.
"It is a really great opportunity for people with disabilities to ride because it is an activity they can do on the same level as other people. It is important that this event continues to receive support drom the Special Olympics and the community, " Akers says.
When 14-year-old Larissa Hughes was diagnosed with a developmental delay she was referred to Akers by her pediatrician.
Larissa's mother, Donna, says she can see a difference in her daughter's behavior since she has started the equestrian therapy.
Donna says that Larissa was not interested in any other sports and that riding has been very good for her socially and her self-esteem. She credits the changes in her daughter's behavior to Akers.
"She's really calm and really good with the kids," Donna said.
Larissa and her 12-year-old brother Cooper love horseback riding so much that Donna and her husband are building a barn and getting them a horse this fall.
Akers is always looking for volunteers to provide assistance for riders during lessons because each rider needs one to three people to walk alongside them.
The volunteers are key because if there aren't enough people to assist the riders, the lessons can't be taught and by interacting with the volunteers students learn social skills.
To volunteer or enroll a student contact Akers at the Little Creek Special Equestrians at 1-812-986-3097.